Those who believe in clubhouse chemistry now have two riveting experiments to watch in these final six weeks: Alex Rios and his Chicago White Sox teammates, and Pedro Martinez and his Philadelphia Phillies teammates.
Both situations involve winning teams with high expectations, a new player with baggage and current players who are popular in the clubhouse and stand to lose playing time.
It is widely believed that Rios' arrival will punch Jermaine Dye's ticket out of town. Dye, a free agent this winter, Rios, Carlos Quentin and Scott Podsednik equal four players for three spots. So? Manager Ozzie Guillen's job just became ever-more challenging. And unless there's mega-understanding, somebody's not going to be happy with each new lineup card posting.
Between general manager Kenny Williams' uber-aggressiveness and Guillen's take-no-crap manner, these are just the guys to handle it. What these Sox have done so well over the years is put winning first, rather than cater to personalities, and that's not changing now.
"That's what we do here," Guillen told Chicago reporters this week. "We hurt your feelings? That's easy. Call your agent, your agent will call [general manager] Kenny Williams and then Kenny will do something about it."
The biggest key might be how much of an effort Rios makes. In Toronto, several sources say, he rubbed several teammates the wrong way with his disinterest in working too hard.
Meantime, Martinez's arrival has pushed veteran Jamie Moyer to the bullpen. Moyer is not a happy camper, and Pedro, historically a diva, could cause a clubhouse rift down the stretch. Especially if he isn't winning. Moyer, integral to the Phillies' World Series title last year, is popular with teammates and is viewed as a mentor by younger Phils (which, yes, pretty much includes all of them being that Moyer is 46).
The prediction here is that, as usual, it will come down to performance and wins in the end. If Rios hits and the Sox win, the rotating outfield quartet will be all smiles. If he doesn't and they don't, it could get ugly.
In Philly, same thing. Pedro's act always has tilted toward the endearing when he's winning, and toward the grating when he's not. His debut with the Phils, a 12-5 win over the Cubs, was a start. If he improves from there, the Phillies' callous shoving aside of Moyer will be far more easily overlooked in the clubhouse.
And if not, Pedro may not be around for the long haul, anyway. And maybe Moyer makes a triumphant, late-season return to the rotation.
At the very least, both situations have the chance to work out splendidly ... or to turn catastrophic. Either way, it'll be must-see TV.
How good are the New York Yankees' chances of playing in another World Series?
History tells us this: Dating back to 1995, eight of the 14 teams that owned the best record in baseball on Aug. 13 have advanced to that year's World Series (and four of those teams won).
The eight best record on Aug. 13/World Series teams: 2007 Boston Red Sox, 2006 Detroit Tigers, 2005 Chicago White Sox, 2004 St. Louis Cardinals, 1999 New York Yankees, 1998 New York Yankees, 1996 Atlanta Braves and 1995 Cleveland Indians.
The four World Series winners: 2007 Red Sox, 2005 White Sox, the 1999 Yankees and the '98 Yankees.
The Yankees, by the way, are the seventh different team over the past seven seasons to own the best record in baseball on Aug. 13.
Likes: Caught The Bob Dylan Show -- Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dylan -- in Lake Elsinore, Calif., on Wednesday night and it was fantastic. Great venue -- at The Diamond, home of the Lake Elsinore Storm, Single A affiliate of the San Diego Padres -- gorgeous night and great sound. Willie Nelson opened, playing for about an hour, and the man may be 76, but his voice is timeless. Of course, his classics Whiskey River and On the Road Again were great, and a couple of Hank Williams numbers mid-show, Jambalaya and Hey Good Lookin', were really cool. Mellencamp rocks, though one of his highlights was an acoustic version of Small Town. He brought out his 14-year-old son, Speck, to play guitar on his final number, The Authority Song, and Mellencamp teased him pretty good ("Now you know you're not in the band, right?"). Pink Houses, Crumblin' Down, Rain on the Scarecrow and a couple of his new songs were stellar. Then, last came the master. And while I've heard Dylan can be maddeningly inconsistent, and barely able to be understood sometimes when he sings, I've gotta say, he and his five-man band were far better than I expected. There isn't any interplay with the audience, but that's fine. Watching Dylan was the same feeling I got when I was in a baseball clubhouse when Muhammad Ali entered a couple of springs ago. To me, there are only a very small handful of icons that can make you sit back and go, 'Whoa', and the reclusive Dylan -- like Ali -- is one. He killed on Thunder on the Mountain and Summer Nights, among many others. All Along the Watchtower, his show closer, was terrific. The Times, They Are A-Changing was barely recognizable until about a third of the way in, but it was great. Two songs from the new album, Beyond Here Lies Nothin' and Jolene, were highlights. All in all, when you can catch three Hall of Famers in one venue on one night, that's a pretty darn good night. ... Oh yeah, and there was a fourth Hall of Famer, too: Basketball legend -- and former Grateful Dead groupie -- Bill Walton was rockin' in the standing room area in front of the stage, about 20 feet to my right. Looked like people were leaving him alone and letting him enjoy the show.
Dislikes: A Cubs fan throws beer on Shane Victorino during Wednesday night's game? All these years later, and Lee Elia is still right. ... Can we just get past the Aug. 17 signing deadline so we don't have to listen to more of the Stephen Strasburg negotiations. Every baseball man I talk to expects, with Scott Boras as the adviser, that it will go right up until the midnight EDT deadline on the 17th. ... Aw, they sold out of the cool Bob Dylan Show concert poster I was going to pick up on my way out of the Lake Elsinore ballpark at Wednesday night's show. It would have looked so good on my office wall, too.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver
"And I'm reading James Joyce
"Some people they tell me
"I got the blood of the land in my voice"
-- Bob Dylan, I Feel a Change Comin' On